Chronicles of England, France, Spain, and the adjoining countries from the latter part of the reign of Edward II. to the coronation of Henry IV., by Sir John Froissart.
Froissart’s chronicles probably throw more light on certain aspects of the period to which they refer, than is thrown by any other single writer upon any other period. What Boswell did for the literary society of which Johnson formed the centre, what St. Simon did for the Court of Louis XIV., Froissart did for the military life of the fourteenth century. His history extends over a period of seventy-three years, beginning with the accession of Edward III. in 1327, and ending with the coronation of Henry IV. of England in 1400. He appears to have been born himself in 1337, and he must have lived into the fifteenth century, though the date of his death is not known. His whole life was devoted to the production of his book. He was continually engaged either in collecting materials for it or in making use of them. This appears from many passages in which he describes his various journeys and their common object—namely, to collect information. 'I, John Froissart,' he says in one place, 'set myself to work at my forge to produce new and notable matter relative to the wars between France and England and their allies . . . which excellent matter I shall work upon as long as I live; for the more I labour at it the more it delights me, just as a gallant knight or squire at arms who loves his profession the longer he continues in it so much the more delectable it appears.'
Notices indeed are scattered over the latter half of his work which show that he had hardly any other occupation in life than that of collecting news. Speaking of one of the attempts made in the time of Richard II. to make a permanent peace between England and France he says, 'I who at the time resided at Abbeville to learn news'—Abbeville being the scene of the treaty. But the most characteristic passage of all is one in which he gives an account of his modus operandi: 'I may perhaps be asked how I became acquainted with the events in this history to speak so circumstantially about them. I reply to those who shall do so that I have, with great attention and diligence, sought in divers kingdoms and countries for the facts which have been or may hereafter be mentioned in it; for God has given me grace and opportunities to see and make acquaintance with the greater part of the principal Lords of France and England. It should be known that in the year 1390 I had laboured at this history thirty-seven years, and at that time I was fifty-seven years old; a man may therefore learn much in such a period when he is in his vigour and well received by all parties. During my youth I was five years attached to the King and Queen of England, and kindly entertained in the household of King John of France and King Charles his son. I was in consequence enabled to hear much during those times, and for certain the greatest pleasure I have ever had was to make every possible inquiry in regard to what was passing in the world, and then to write down all that I had learnt.'
The result of the uninterrupted and sedulous gratification of these tastes for many years of his life together was that he succeeded in producing an enormous historical picture, which, whatever may be its defect in detail, may at all events be trusted to give a vivid general representation of its subjects. I will try to give some indications of the nature of the principal passages. The task is not so formidable as it might appear to be from the extent of the work. Johnes's translation of Froissart contains six thick volumes in common 8vo, or 1500 closely-printed pages in royal 8vo; but by far the greater part of the work is composed of matter so uniform in its character that it is comparatively easy to point out and illustrate the most striking passages.
The first words of the first chapter state correctly the object of the whole book. 'To encourage all valorous hearts, and to show them honourable examples, I, John Froissart, will begin to relate' etc. The one eternal subject of the apparently endless history is war. Other things come in incidentally, but the general impression which Froissart gives is that the age in which he lived was completely given over to fighting, and cared about nothing else whatever.
Besides the great war between France and England which lasted with occasional and very ill-observed truces for about a hundred and twenty years—there were subsidiary wars almost too numerous to mention —wars between England and Scotland, wars between the French and the Flemings, wars between Ghent and Bruges, three-sided wars in Brittany, wars between France and Navarre, wars in Spain, wars in Portugal, wars in Beam, wars in the different provinces which fell by degrees under the power of the Duke of Burgundy, wars in the county of Foix, wars, in a word, wherever there was an independent or semi-independent feudal ruler. The possession of Gascony by the Black Prince let loose the Gascons against the French in every direction, and to crown all, the Free Companies carried on wars on their own private account, which were neither more nor less than murder, robbery, and arson on a gigantic scale, and conducted for no other object than that of collecting plunder.
These wars, moreover, were very different from those of later times. A war in the fourteenth century seemed to have meant unlimited license to every one who could raise a small force to fly at the throats of every one else who had anything to lose. We learn from other authorities what were the practical results of wars thus conducted. Great parts of France were reduced to the condition of a desert, which it ceased to be worth while to cultivate. The population took refuge in caves, and endured a degree of misery which has probably been seldom exceeded at any period of history. Such is the picture as drawn by modern historians of the result of the English wars in France, but except by an effort of reflection no one would ever be led to suspect its existence simply by reading Froissart. His history flows on in an interminable stream of narratives of petty contests, the interest of which has long since entirely ceased. Castle after castle is besieged and taken, town after town burnt, skirmish after skirmish won or lost; but it never seems to occur to the chronicler that there is anything shocking in his story, or that any one can recognise in it anything but a delectable record of magnificent exploits.
With Joinville war between Christians at least is a great evil, and the preservation of the lives and property of his subjects is the great duty of a feudal lord—a greater and more pressing duty even than crusading. Comines again is full of moral reflections on the iniquitous and monstrous character of many of the events which he witnessed, but Froissart, “l’insouciant Froissart,” as M. Michelet calls him, is perfectly at ease in his conscience, and never feels shocked at anything that he has to record.
In Edward III.'s first invasion of Picardy 'A troop of English and Germans came to Origny St Benoit, a tolerably good town but weakly enclosed so that it was soon taken by assault, robbed and pillaged, an abbey of nuns violated, and the whole town burnt. They then marched towards Guise and Ribemont. The King of England came and lodged at Vehories, where he remained a whole day while his people overran all the country thereabouts and laid it waste. The King then took the road to La Flamenque on his way to L'Eschelle in Tierache. The marshals with the Bishop of Lincoln accompanied by upwards of 500 lances crossed the river Trisaque entered the Laonnois near the estate of the Lord of Coney and burnt St. Gouvin and the town of Marie.' Learning the approach of the main French army they lay one night at Var below Laon, and the next day returned to the main army, as they had learnt from some of their prisoners that King Philip of France was come to St. Quentin with 100,000 men and there intended to cross the river Somme. They 'burnt in their retreat a very good town called Crecy sur Selle with a great many others as well as villages in that neighbourhood.' The French, entering Hainault 'came to the town of Haspres which was a large handsome town though not fortified; nor had the inhabitants any fear for they had never the smallest notice of war being declared against the country. The French on entering the town found every one within doors. Having taken and pillaged what they pleased they burnt the town so completely that nothing but the walls remained.' The French were fired upon from Huesnoy by cannon 'which flung large iron bolts in such a manner as made the French afraid for their horses so they retreated and burnt Grand Warguy and Petit Warguy, Frelaines, Hamary, Maitre Semery, and Oirtre, Jariten, Turques, etc., and the Hainaulters fled from their towns to Valenciennes. The French afterwards encamped their battalions upon the hill of Valenciennes where they lived in a rich and splendid manner.' The Duke of Normandy, who commanded on this occasion,' gave orders for his army to dislodge and enter Hainault and burn and destroy everything without exception.'
The burning of twenty-four other towns and the devastation of large tracts of country is mentioned in the same chapter. The only observation made is as follows. After staying for a night at Main and Fontenelles 'they burnt Main and Fontenelles and also the convent which belonged to Madame de Valois, sistergerman to the King of France. The Duke was much vexed at this and had those who set it on fire hanged. In their retreat they completed the burning of the town of Tire and its castle, the mills were also destroyed.' It would be easy to fill pages with similar extracts, [See e.g. invasion of Normandy, I. 154-158. Treatment of Auvergne by the Black Prince I. 210. A few persons survived the ravages by the assault, I. 248.] but difficult to find a single expression of pity or disapproval unless indeed churches are attacked.
In describing, for instance, the storm of Durham by the Scotch, Froissart says, 'All were put to death without mercy and without distinction of persons or ranks, men, women, children, monks, canons, priests; no one was spared, neither was there house or church left standing. It was pity thus to destroy in Christendom the churches wherein God was served and honoured.' [I. 99. The famous story of the sparing of the lives of the men of Calais is perhaps entitled to notice on the same ground. I. 185-186. 2 I. 262.]
Froissart draws the line above profanity. An English squire profaned the elements of the sacrament at a village called Roney in order to steal the chalice, and having struck the priest with his gauntlet 'his horse began to caper and to play such violent tricks that no one dared to approach him. After many plunges they both fell to the ground with their necks broken' (it was rather hard upon the horse), 'and were immediately turned into dust and ashes. His companion seeing this made a vow that from henceforward they would never violate the sanctity of any church.'
The places in which he shows genuine pity are very few. I have noted one or two: Limoges, having gone over to the French, was retaken by the Black Prince and was not only sacked and burnt but all the population massacred. Upon this Froissart goes so far as to say, 'It was a most melancholy business for all ranks, ages, and sexes, to cast themselves on their knees before the prince begging for mercy, but he was so inflamed with passion and revenge that he listened to none, but all were put to the sword wherever they could be found even those who were not guilty; for I know not why the poor were not spared who could not have had any part in this treason, but they suffered for it and indeed more than those who had been the leaders of the treachery. There was not that day in the city of Limoges any heart so hardened, or that had any sense of religion, who did not deeply bewail the unfortunate events passing before their eyes; for upwards of 3000 men, women, and children were put to death that day. God have mercy on their souls! for they were veritably martyrs.’
He observes too, in reference to the wars between the men of Ghent and the Earl of Flanders, that they were caused by the devil. 'You know wise men think that the devil, who is subtle and full of artifice, labours night and day to cause warfare wherever he finds peace and harmony,' and he accordingly did so in Flanders.2'The devil, who never sleeps, put it in the heads of the people of Bruges to make a canal from the river Leys.' He also contrived quarrels between some of the inhabitants and the Earl of Flanders, and so by trifling events stirred up war between Ghent, Bruges, and the Earl of Flanders. The cause of the war lay a good deal deeper than Froissart supposed, but it is something that he admits that war is in any case a work of the devil.
Repulsive as this way of regarding war is to our modern view, it must be owned that there are many passages in Froissart, which enable us to understand the view which he took of war, and to appreciate its attractive and romantic as well as its brutal side. The actual belligerents, the fighting men themselves, treat each other throughout with distinguished courtesy, and much more in the spirit of competitors in a game of skill and strength than in that of real deadly enemies. Great part of the book consists of accounts of tournaments, single combats, captures, rescues, and ransoms, and it is remarkable to observe in how very many cases, the most desperate personal encounters end without loss of life or even without serious wounds.
A single illustration will be enough upon this point. Certain English and Navarrese knights were on their journey to Cherbourg under a passport from the Constable of France. They stopped to dine at Chateau Josselin. 'When they had dismounted at the inn, like travellers who wished to repose themselves, the knights and squires of the castle came to visit them, as brother soldiers who always see each other with pleasure particularly the French and English.' A French squire, John Boucmel, met an English squire, Nicholas Clifford, and insisted on having three courses with a lance with him, as each had a high reputation as a man-at-arms; Clifford made a variety of excuses, but Boucmel insisted on tilting, and at last the constable, who was at the castle, the inn being in the town below, insisted on keeping them there all night that they might fight in the morning. They fought accordingly, and at the first course 'Clifford struck with his spear John Boucmel on the upper part of his heart, but the point slipped off the steel breastplate and pierced the hood which was of good mail and entering the neck cut the jugular vein and passed quite through.' Boucmel of course was killed on the spot. Clifford 'was exceedingly vexed for having by ill-fortune slain a valiant and good man-at-arms.' The constable, however, remarked that ' such things were to be expected in similar combats.' He then said to the English 'Come, come to dinner, for it is ready.' Clifford, being deeply distressed, refused to go, but the constable fetched him almost by force.
The whole book, as most people know, is full of such traits, but it may be doubted whether the true inference is as generally drawn as it ought to be. People in those days were not more romantic, certainly not more humane than they are at present; but the gentry of all countries formed a class with common feelings, habits, and sentiments, whose only chance of rising in the world, and in particular of making fortunes, was by distinctions in war. A battle comprised the attractions of a prize-fight and a lottery. To take a valuable prisoner was a piece of good luck which might and often did make a man's fortune; and there were besides the prospects of unlimited pillage amongst the townspeople and peasants who felt the whole edge of the war.
Many passages, especially in the latter part of Froissart (which is also much the best part of the book), set this in a striking light. He continually observes upon the extreme fondness of the English for war, and it is plain from various passages near the end of the book that the unpopularity of Richard II. arose to a very great extent from his wish to produce if possible a durable treaty between France and England.
The following passages illustrate this. 'Many persons will not readily believe what I am about to say though it is strictly true, that the English are fonder of war than of peace. During the reign of King Edward of happy memory, and in the lifetime of his son the Prince of Wales, they made such grand conquests in France and by their victories, and ransoms of towns, castles, and men, gained such wealth that the poorest knights became rich, and those who were not gentlemen by birth, by gallantly hazarding themselves in these wars were ennobled for their valour and wealth.' Richard II. did all in his power to make a durable peace, but 'the majority of the commons were desirous of war; and twothirds of the young knights and squires knew not how to employ themselves—they had learnt idleness and looked to war as the means of support.'
So eager were they for war that they were rather pleased than otherwise at the prospect of an invasion which was threatened in 1386. Froissart says, 'The great lords such as prelates, abbots, and rich citizens were panic-struck, but the commonalty and poorer sort held it very cheap. Such knights and squires as were not rich, but eager for renown, were delighted and said to each other: "Lord, what fine times are coming, the King of France intends to visit us! He is a valiant king and of great enterprise, there has not been such a one in France these three hundred years. He will make his people good menat-arms, and blessed may he be for thinking to invade us, for certainly we shall be all slain or made powerfully rich; one or the other must happen."'
The pleasant side of the sort of life which was led by the feudal aristocracy in Froissart's days, is best shown by the accounts which he gives of some of his acquaintances at the court of the Count of Foix, his account of his residence at which is one of the most interesting parts of the whole book. [Vol. ii. All the early part of vol. ii. is occupied by Froissart's tour to Foix.] He visited the Count at his capital, Orthes in Béarn, in 1388. His journey thither was made in the company of a knight of Foix called Sir Espaign, who told him histories all the way about the different skirmishes which had occurred in the places by which they passed. The stories are all of the same kind, about sieges, stratagems, and battles. One of the most curious relates how a certain knight called the Bourg d'Espaigne once carried a donkey with a load of wood on his back up twenty-four steps, and threw the donkey and the wood all in a heap on the fireplace of the hearth.
['Three years ago I saw him play a ridiculous trick which I will relate to you. On Christmas Day when the Count de Foix was celebrating the feast with numbers of the knights and squires, as is customary, the weather was piercing cold, and the Count had dined with many lords in the hall, which has a large staircase of twenty-four steps. This gallery is heated by a fire when the Count inhabits it, otherwise not, and the fire is never great, for he does not like it. It is not for want of blocks of wood, for Beam is covered with wood, plenty to warm him if he had chosen; but he accustomed himself to a small fire. When in the gallery he thought the fire too small, for it was freezing and the weather very sharp, and he said to the knights around him, '' Here is but a small fire for this weather." Ernauton d'Espaigne instantly ran downstairs, for from the windows of the gallery he had seen a number of asses laden with billets of wood for the use of the house, and seizing the largest of these asses with his load, threw him over his shoulders and carried him upstairs, pushing through the knights and squires who were round the chimney, and flung ass and load, with his feet upwards, on the dogs of the hearth, to the delight and astonishment of all at the strength of the squire who had carried with such ease so great a load up so many steps' (ii. 87).]On his arrival Froissart found Count Gaston de Foix the handsomest, the most prudent, and yet the most splendid prince he had ever seen. His accounts of his habits and court are too long to quote, but it is one of the most interesting passages in Froissart.
The following is a summary of the principal points in it. 'In short, everything considered, though I had before been in several courts of kings, dukes, princes, counts, and noble ladies, I was never at one which pleased me more, nor was I ever more delighted with feats of arms than at this of the Count of Foix. There were knights and squires to be seen in every chamber, hall, and court, going backwards and forwards, and conversing on arms and amours. All intelligence from distant countries was there to be learnt; for the gallantry of the court had brought visitors from all parts of the world. It was there I was informed of the greater part of those events which had happened in Spain, Portugal, Arragon, Navarre, England, Scotland, and on the borders of Lanquedoc, for I saw during my residence knights and squires arrive from every nation.'
Froissart passed a considerable time in this feudal paradise enjoying himself in every way to perfection, but especially in acquiring information. One of his pieces of good fortune in this respect, was the opportunity which he enjoyed of hearing the history of a certain Gascon squire called 'le bastol de Mauleon,' who may be taken as a typical example of the military adventurers of that age.
He was about fifty when Froissart knew him, and 'arrived at the Hotel of the Moon, where I lodged, in grand array, having led horses with him, like a great baron, and he and his attendants were served on plate of gold and silver.' ..." One night as we were sitting round the fire chatting and waiting for midnight, which was the hour the Count supped,'Mauleon's cousin asked him to tell his adventures, which he did accordingly. Mauleon first served at Poitiers under the Captal de Buch, where he made three prisoners, who paid him 4000 francs. He then went to Prussia under the Captal de Buch. Next he was employed in putting down the Jacquerie. Afterwards he served under the Count of Foix in Picardy, and the King of England against the French, 'and gained very large sums of money.'
After the peace between England and France he became a free companion, and at the battle of Brejnais overpowered the Constable of France, where he and his friends 'enriched themselves by good prisoners and by the towns and castles which they took in the Archbishopric of Lyons.' He then formed part of a body hired by the Pope at Avignon for 60,000 francs. Part of them went into Italy, but others, of whom Mauleon was one, stayed in France, where they had possession of many towns and castles, and ransomed the whole country, and they could 'only be freed from us by well paying.' They were nominally in the service of the King of Navarre, but in reality were carrying on war on their own account. Mauleon at this time held, with forty lances, a castle called Le Bee d'Allier, 'where I made great profit.' He was on one occasion taken prisoner by a cousin, who ransomed him on the field for 1000 francs, and gave him a passport home to the Bee d'Allier.
He went on a raid with an English knight, Sir John Aymery, but fell into an ambush and was again taken prisoner. He was set free, and went to Brittany, where 'I made such good prisoners they paid me 2000 francs.' Thence he went into Spain with Sir Hugh Calverley, then back again into Gascony, where he fought for the Black Prince. Most of his companions were killed in the course of time, but 'I have guarded the frontiers and supported the King of England, for my estate is in the Bordelois; and I have been at times so miserably poor that I had not a horse to mount; at other times rich enough, just as good fortune befell me.' He held various castles, one in particular, 'which has been worth to me, as well by compositions as by good luck, 100,000 francs.' This valuable castle he took by disguising himself and some of his companions as women who had gone out to draw water. As there was no guard at the gate but a cobbler mending shoes, they easily took possession. At the time of telling his story he was, he said, doubtful how to act. 'I am in treaty with the Count d'Armagnac and the Dauphin d'Auvergne, who have been expressly commissioned by the King of France to buy all towns and castles from the captains of the free companies. Several have sold their forts and gone away. I am doubtful whether I shall sell mine' (ii. 101-107).
There is not a word in Froissart's account of Mauleon's adventures which indicates that he thought them in the least degree disreputable or worthy of blame. On the contrary, he displays throughout the most lively satisfaction in his society, and appears to have regarded with respect, not to say admiration, a man who, according to our modern standard, was simply a robber on a large scale.
The following soliloquy, which he puts into the mouth of one Aymerigon Marcel, is a good description of the pleasures of such a life. 'There is no pleasure nor glory in this world like what men-at-arms such as ourselves enjoyed. How happy were we when riding out in search of adventures, we met a rich abbot, a merchant, or a string of mules well laden with draperies, furs, or spices from Montpellier, Beciers, or other places; all was our own, or at least ransomed according to our will. Every day we gained money. The peasants of Auvergne and Limousin loved us, and provided our castle with corn, oats, hay, good wine, fat hens, sheep, and all sorts of poultry; we lived like kings, and when we went abroad the country trembled; everything was ours both in going and returning. How did I and the Bourg de Copaire take Carlat? and how did I and Perrot le Bearnois win Chalnet? How did we—you and I—without other assistance, scale the strong castle of Marquel that belongs to the Count Dauphin 1 I only kept it five days, and was paid down on a table 5000 francs for it, of which I gave back 1000 from love to the Count's children. By my troth this was a profitable and pleasant life, and I feel myself much reduced by selling Alosse, which was strong enough to resist any force that could be brought against it, and was besides, at the time of my surrendering, so plentifully stored with provisions and other necessaries that it would not have needed anything for seven years' (ii. 450).
Froissart does afterwards speak of these people as 'robbers,' but though one or two such expressions occur in his pages, and though there may perhaps be some degree of conscious irony in Marcel's soliloquy, such feelings are altogether exceptional in him. On the whole he is perfectly satisfied with the age in which he lives, the notion of reform or even of reproof hardly presents itself seriously to his mind.
He gives, for instance, without observation of any sort, as the last words of Geoffrey Teate, captain of the Castle of Ventadour [II. 387. The whole history of Ventadour, its importance, its stories, the organisation of the garrison, and the manner in which it was captured, is highly illustrative of the fourteenth century, but est modus in rebus, see II. 9, 314, 387, 428, and I. 568.] the following among other observations: 'I beg you' (his followers) 'will tell me if you have taken any steps, or have thought of electing any one able to govern and lead you as men-at-arms ought to be governed and led, for such has been my manner of carrying on war, and in truth I cared not against whom. I did indeed make it under shadow of the king of England's name in preference to any other, but I have always looked for gain and conquest wherever they may be had, and such should ever be the conduct of adventurous companions who are for deeds of arms and to advance themselves.'
One of the most striking illustrations of the perfect ease and satisfaction with which Froissart regarded the existing state of things is to be found in his account of the various outbreaks which took place in his time on the part of the peasantry against the nobility. He describes the jacquerie simply as a modern writer would describe any ordinary crime, without a word of explanation even of the causes of the revolt, or of pity for the fearful (though not undeserved) punishment which it met with. His account of Wat Tyler's insurrection goes rather more into detail, and is curious on several accounts and especially on account of its callousness, and the utter ignorance which it shows of principles which in our days are universally familiar.
After describing Ball's sermons at some length he concludes with the following observation. 'In order that gentlemen and others may take example and correct wicked rebels, I will most amply detail how this business was conducted.' Farther on he tells, without the smallest mark of disapprobation, the manner in which Richard II. got out of his difficulties for the moment, by promising the insurgents general enfranchisement, and giving them letters under his seal granting it, and how he afterwards got the letters back and tore them up, [667. This was one of the earliest instances of the much contested power of martial law. See charge of C. - J. Cockburn in the cases of Nelson and Brand. Several passages in Froissart illustrate this subject, but he is so loose a writer and knew so little of law, that what he says is not worth quoting. ] and hanged or beheaded upwards of 1500 persons in various parts of the country for having obtained them.
Such being the general style and tone of Froissart's work, it is natural to ask what can be collected from his book as to his opinions and those of his age on great subjects? Froissart was a priest, and for this as for other reasons, it is natural to look first at the light which his book throws on the religious condition of the age which he described. The result is curious.
Every page of Joinville is stamped deep with the impress of religion. Comines never misses an opportunity of dwelling after his manner on the providential government of the world, but M. Michelet's strange remark that the word God is not to be found in Shakespeare would be far less unjust if applied to Froissart. It is not so much the word as the thought that is wanting, and that not only in Froissart himself, but in the persons about whom he writes and the general nature of 'the events which he has to relate. His book suggests that religion, and morals too, were in his time under an almost total eclipse, and that the only substitute for them, such as it was, which his writings show to have existed was polished manners, as between gentlemen. The only observation which I have noticed of what may be called a pious character in the whole book occurs in the description of the sudden attack of madness which came upon Charles VI. when in his march against Brittany. 'It was manifestly the work of God, whose punishments are severe, to make his creatures tremble.'
Here follows a reference to Nebuchadnezzar, and then Froissart observes, 'To speak truly, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, three in name but one in substance, was, is, and ever will be of as sufficient power to declare his works as from the beginning, and one ought not therefore to be surprised at whatever wonderful things happen.'
There is a little, but not very much more, trace of ecclesiastical as distinguished from religious feeling in Froissart. He refers several times to the great schism between the Urbanists and the Clementists, which lasted through nearly the whole of the period of which he writes. His tone upon the subject is that of a sensible man of the world who hated to see his profession lowered in influence and public estimation by the disputes of its members. As to the dissensions between the clergy and the nobles, he says, 'To satisfy the people and excuse the great barons, I may say, that as there cannot be a yolk of an egg without its white, nor a white without the yolk, so neither the clergy nor the lords can exist independently of each other, for the lords, not being ruled by the clergy, would degenerate into beasts' (ii. 145).
The secret contempt of the priest for the noble, which-peeps out at the end of this passage, is all the more remarkable because it is so seldom and so shortly expressed. The tacit assumption in the last sentence that the clergy could not possibly dispense with the support of the nobility and that the Church was essentially an aristocratic institution is also notable.
These observations are contained in an account of one Friar John de la Roche-Tailtade, who enforced the doctrine that it was necessary for the clergy to bear their honours meekly, by a parable showing how a certain bird, 'a prodigiously handsome bird,' was born without feathers, and was on account of his beauty supplied with feathers by others. Becoming proud, those who had lent their feathers reclaimed them, whereupon the bird begged for mercy and 'promised henceforward never to risk by pride or presumption the loss of his feathers.' His friends agreed to his conditions. 'We will gladly see thee fly among us so long as thou shalt bear thyself meekly, for so it becometh thee, but if ever thou shalt act arrogantly we will pluck thee bare and leave thee in the naked state we found thee.'
The fortunes of John de la Roche-Tailtade are worth notice. He gave the obvious interpretation of the parable, and the cardinals 'would willingly have put him to death but they could not find any just cause for it. They suffered him to live, but confined him a close prisoner, for he proposed such deep questions and examined so closely the Scriptures that he might perhaps, had he been at liberty, have led the world astray.'
The view which is disclosed by this story of the relation between the Church and the nobles, and of the necessity of the feathers to the prodigiously handsome bird, is delightfully simple and natural. So, too, is the fate of poor John de la Roche-Tailtade. Elsewhere Froissart describes him as a prophet who 'made many books full of much science and learning,' and foretold many events 'which he never could have foretold as a prophet but by means of the ancient Scriptures and the Holy Spirit.' Froissart obviously regarded him as on the whole a dangerous character.
Small as is the part allotted to religious feeling or reflections in Froissart's pages, there is a fair share of superstition and plenty of ignorance. Several instances of this occur in the account which he gives of the siege of the French and English jointly, during one of their truces, of the town of Africa, a fortress in Morocco.
The Saracens sent to ask the Christians why they attacked people who had never offended them? Hereupon 'twelve of the greatest barons in the army assembled in the Duke of Bourbon's tent, and the messenger and interpreter being called in, the last was ordered to tell him from the lords present "that in consequence of their ancestors having crucified and put to death the Son of God called Jesus Christ, a true prophet, without any cause or just reason, they were come to retaliate on them for this infamous and unjust judgment. Secondly, they were unbaptized and infidels in the faith to the holy Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ, and had no Creed of their own. For those and other causes they held the Saracens and their whole sect as enemies, and were come to revenge the injuries they had done to their God and Faith.'" Upon this 'the Saracen laughed heartily and said they made assertions without proof, for it was the Jews who had crucified Jesus Christ and not they.'
Various miracles occurred at the siege. The Genoese had a dog which belonged to no one in particular, and always barked when the Saracens came out, whence he was called the dog of our Lady.
'Through the grace of God and the Virgin Mary a remedy was found for a swarm of flies in the shape of a thunderstorm. The Virgin herself and a company of ladies dressed in white appeared to and frightened the Saracens. Probably this was because the business was in the nature of a Crusade, but there are some though not many miracles reported on other occasions. The oddest story by far in the whole book relates to a rapping spirit, who appears to have behaved himself in a castle in the Pyrenees, in the fourteenth century, in the very same way in which Wesley's Ghost behaved at Epworth, in the eighteenth, and the ghosts of our own time in Europe and America. He was, however, a very superior sort of ghost, as, unlike his successors, he had something to say for himself, and anticipated the electric telegraph. The story is this :—
Raymond of Corasse, a Baron of Foix, had a suit about tithes against a priest of Catalonia, to whom he refused to do justice though the priest got judgment. The priest said he would send a champion whom the baron should fear, and took his departure. Three months after, while the baron and his wife were in bed, 'There came invisible messengers who made such a noise, knocking about everything they met with in the castle, as if they were determined to destroy all within it, and they gave such loud raps at the door of the chamber of the knight that the lady was exceedingly frightened. On the following night the noises and rioting were renewed, but much louder than before, and there were such blows struck against the door and windows of the chamber of the knight that it seemed they would break them down.' The knight got up and asked who was there. The ghost (who was able, it seems, to talk) said his name was Orthon and he was sent by the priest. The knight said, 'Serving a clerk will not be of much advantage to thee, I beg thou wilt therefore leave him and serve me.' Orthon, who 'had taken a liking to the knight' said, 'Do you wish it?'—' Yes,' replied the knight, 'but no harm must be done to any one within these walls.'—' Oh no,' answered Orthon, 'I have no power to harm any one, only to awaken thee and disturb thy rest or that of other persons.' At last it was settled that Orthon was to serve the knight, and he accordingly called frequently, and told him news from all parts of the world for five years. 'Two or three times every week he visited the knight and told him all the news of the countries he had frequented, which the knight wrote immediately to the Count of Foix, who was much delighted therewith, as there is not a lord in the world more eager for news from foreign parts than he is.' Being pressed to appear to the knight, Orthon did so, first in the shape of two straws and then in the shape of a 'sharp pointed lean sow.' Unluckily the knight set his dogs at the sow and so affronted Orthon and broke off the connection. The story is introduced to explain the alleged fact that the Count of Foix knew of the battle of Algerbarola in Portugal, in which the French and Bearnese were defeated with great loss by the Portuguese and English, the day after it was fought, though the news did not arrive by the ordinary route for ten days. The story was told with much mystery. 'He drew me aside to a corner of the vault of the Chapel of Athes and thus began his tale.'
One of the most interesting of the matters to be collected from Froissart is his estimate of the character of the different nations which he had occasion to describe, and his accounts of their manners and customs. His observations on national character are mere passing remarks. The notion of set dissertations on such a topic had not occurred to him. Indeed the limits of race and nation were then but ill fixed. Froissart constantly speaks of people becoming Englishmen and Frenchmen; in the sense of taking the side of the French or the English. He constantly speaks of Gascons as Englishmen, and on the other hand remarks that in England he thought a Hainaulter was called a Frenchman 'for all who speak the langue d'oil are by English considered as Frenchmen, whatever country they come from.' He makes hardly any general observations on the French character, but a good many on that of the English. It is pleasant even at this distance of time to read his laudatory observations on the warlike qualities of our ancestors (who however continually met their match). For instance, in speaking of the battle of Otterbourne, he says, 'Of all the battles that have been described in this history great and small, this was the best fought and the most severe; for there was not a man, knight, or squire who did not acquit himself gallantly hand to hand with his enemy. It resembled somewhat that of Cockerel [I. 319, 22, fought on the 24th May 1364. The French under Du Guesclin defeated the English and Navarrese under the Captal de Buch.] which was as long and hardily disputed.' 'The English and Scotch are excellent men-at-arms, and whenever they meet in battle they do not spare each other; nor is there any check to their courage as long as their weapons endure.'
So in speaking of the army which the Black Prince took into Spain, he says, 'The prince had with him the flower of chivalry, and there were under him the most renowned combatants in the whole world.' Otherwise, however, he had not a very good opinion of the English. He says, 'Consider how serious a thing it is when the people rise up in arms against their sovereign, more especially such a people as the English. In such a case there is no remedy, for they are the worst people in the world, the most obstinate and presumptuous, and of all England the Londoners are the leaders, for to say the truth they are very powerful in men and in wealth. In the city and neighbourhood there are 24,000 men completely armed from head to foot and full 30,000 archers. This is a great force, and they are bold and courageous, and the more blood is spilt the greater is their courage.'
He speaks too of their 'hot and impatient temper,' and describes their behaviour to the Gascons very unfavourably. 'I was at Bordeaux when the Prince of Wales marched to Spain, and witnessed the great haughtiness of the English, who are affable to no other nation than their own; nor could any of the gentlemen of Gascony or Aquitaine, though they had ruined themselves by their wars, obtain office or employment in their own country, for the English said they were neither on a level with them nor worthy of their society, which made the Gascons very indignant.' He says, indeed, in describing his visit to England, 'that the English are courteous to strangers;' but it is easy to recognise in these remarks the stubborn courage and intense self-reliance, of which we are accustomed to boast, in connection with that unsympathetic harshness of character, which we have had such bitter cause to regret. A characteristic little touch is introduced in the description of the feelings with which the English received the news of the French victory over the Flemings at Roserque. We can, as it were, hear the voice of John Bull growling to us his descendants over an interval of five hundred years. When the English knights conversed together on the subject they said, 'Ha, by Holy Mary, how proud will the French be now for the heap of peasants they have slain! I wish to God Philip van Artevelde had had 2000 of our lances and 6000 archers, not one Frenchman would have escaped death or imprisonment; by God they shall not long keep this honour,' etc. etc. Might not this have been said in any club in London apropos of the news of Magenta or Solferino?
The Scotch came off even worse than the English at Froissart's hands. 'The Scots,' he says, 'are a wicked race, and pay not any regard to times or respites but as it suits their own convenience.' Elsewhere he observes that a horse was missed, 'for a Scotsman (they are all thieves) had stolen him.' There are two passages which give a very clear notion of the state of Scotland, but they are too long to quote. One is an elaborate account of the Scotch manner of making war, the other an account of the quarrels between the Scotch, and the French who came to help them against the English, and were all but starved to death by their allies.
Froissart was never himself in Ireland, but one of the best passages in the book is the account which he gives, on the relation of a squire called Henry Castide, of their manners. Castide had been taken prisoner by an Irish chief and lived with him seven years, during which time he married his daughter. From his connection with Ireland he was appointed to take charge of four petty kings, who had sworn obedience to the English government, and to give them an English education. He describes their savage habits (e.g. 'They had another custom I knew to be common in the country which was the not wearing breeches'), and how he gradually accustomed them to civilisation, as then understood. Nothing can be more thoroughly kind, judicious, and gentleman-like than his whole account of his treatment, or than the treatment itself. He describes the Irish as mere savages: 'The inland natives are unacquainted with commerce, nor do not wish to know anything of it, but simply to live like wild beasts.'
I may say in conclusion a word or two as to the literary merits of Froissart. His power of narrative has never probably been exceeded, and the force and beauty of particular passages of his book are too well known to require illustration. The only misfortune is that they are imbedded in such a mass of matter which has lost whatever interest it once possessed. As instances I may refer to the exquisite story of Edward III. and the Countess of Salisbury, the account of the battle of Otterbourne, the account of the death of Queen Philippa. It may perhaps interest some readers, who may not have read it, to see the story told in the words of Lord Berners—the spelling only being altered.
'There fell in England a heavy case and a common, howbeit it was right piteous for the king, his children, and all his realm, for the good Queen of England that so many good deeds had done in her time, and so many knights succoured, and ladies and damsels comforted, and had so largely departed of her goods to her people, and naturally loved always the nation of Hainault, the country where she was born. She fell sick in the castle of Windsor, the which sickness continued on her so long that there was no remedy but death; and the good lady whenever she knew and perceived that there was no remedy but death, she put out of her bed her right hand, and took the king by his right hand, who was right sorrowful at his heart. Then she said: "Sir, we have lived in peace, love, and great prosperity, and all our time together. Sir, now I pray you at our departing that you will grant me three desires." The king right sorrowfully weeping, said: "Madam, desire what you will, I grant it."— " Sir," said she, "I require you first of all to all manner of people such as I have dealt with in their merchandise on this side the sea and beyond, that it may please you to pay everything that I owe to them or to any other; and, secondly, Sir, all such ordinances and promises as I have made to the churches, as well of this country as beyond the seas, where I have had my devotions that it may please you to accomplish and fulfil the same. Thirdly, Sir, I require you, that it may please you to take none other sepulture whensoever it shall please God to call you out of this transitory life, but beside me in Westminster." The King all weeping said: "Madam, I grant all your desire." Then the good lady and queen made her the sign of the cross, and commended her husband to God, and her youngest born prince who was then beside her.'
Fraser’s Magazine, July 1873.